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Book Review: The Brain Trust Program by Larry McCleary, M.D.

September 29, 2008

When I was asked to write a review on this book, I jumped at the opportunity- not only did it come at a very opportune time (learning about the brain and how this book offers to “improve memory, enhance attention, and boost mental energy” is very useful to study at the beginning of a new school year!), but we are also sorely lacking in the topic of brain health around here at Living Healthy in the Real World. The brain is not something which I have studied very much and so I was intrigued to learn about it.

Random & interesting tidbits to tease you with (including side comments by yours truly):

– “the brain requires a glucose fix of about 100 grams a day- the equivalent of slightly more than a 1/2 cup of sugar- to meet its demand for energy.” Take a look at the nutrition stats for a slice of angel food cake or a PowerBar- at least 20g of sugar per serving!
– “a poor-quality, junk food diet increases the risk of memory loss… excellence in nutrition [is] at the head of the list in improving and maintaining optimal brain function.” But we all knew that one already, right?
– 20% of Americans are lacking in a sufficient amount of sleep (National Sleep Foundation): “…going without sleep for 20 hours impairs reactions as much as alcohol levels considered illegal in most states.” Translation? Make sure you’re getting a quality sleep as many nights as possible!
– one study showed that after 6 years of following a group of people, the researchers discovered that those who had engaged in the most physical activity at the beginning of the study had the sharpest minds by the end of the study. (If you take a break from school work and go for a walk can you still count that as a form of studying?)
– men can also suffer from hot flashes! …no comment necessary.
– migraines are caused by the brains inability to feel pain (figure that one out!)

Great aspects about this book:

– there’s short, quick quizzes to take to test your brain power and see if you’re at risk for dementia!
– McCleary stresses that there are many different factors contributing to a person being at risk for brain health problems (both our genes and our environment will affect our risks), and it is important to remember that just because you have a family history of getting Alzheimer’s it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get it- you just need to do what you can with your environment to protect yourself. He’s very positive and encouraging about how we all have the ability to do an enormous amount to protect ourselves from developing brain problems down the road.
– this is the basics of everything you ever wanted to know about the brain, its parts, how it works with our senses, and how everything about our lifestyles can effect it.

Things that I disliked:

– the insistence that supplements are necessary for a healthy diet
– the very strong promotion of ketones. You all know how much I love carbs, and how very important I think that they are for the purposes of fueling our bodies, so the idea of a low carb diet is not one that I agree with at all (unless you have a specific medical condition, that is). I am a firm believer that we need a very balanced diet, with good amounts of each carbs, proteins, and fats. McCleary says that ketones “provide a ready supply of alternative fuel to the brain”: this is true, that is exactly what ketones do. However, ketosis only takes place when the body is incredibly deprived of carbs; it is essentially the stealing of your own muscle for fuel (and why would you want to put your body through that? Sure, it’s natural… in times of starvation or severe carb deficiency!). Ketones are a highly controversial subject and it seems to me that people are either very pro-ketones or very much against the idea of self-inducing ketosis, so it’s probably best not to get into too deep a debate about it now, but suffice it to say that I personally believe that it is best to have a balance of the macro nutrients and to supply your body with the carbs that it needs.

And overall…

McCleary lists a number of supplements in Chapter Five and is adamant about our need for supplementing our poor diets. I do not take nutritional supplements of any kind (not even a multivitamin), because I am still very wary about supplements. But it is understandable that he would be so pro-supplementation, because he writes that he created his own product called Lucidal. Reading that caused alarm bells to go off in my head but even though hearing that someone has designed their own product like this, I was pleased to read McCleary’s statements that it is very important to be careful about what you take in conjunction with other supplements and to only obtain these supplements from reputable companies (and even then, to question them and get lots of information on the supplements). He also offers recommended dosages and forms for each supplement, and details which supplements are best not to take.

There is a detailed list of resources at the end of the book, and an extensive 33 page bibliography as well! I found that to be most impressive. In terms of learning about the functions of the brain and how it works, and understanding the background behind various issues such as memory loss, migraines, depression, and aging, this book is really great. It is incredibly informative, providing a sample one-week menu and also including memory tests and simple calculations, which you can track over the period of a month (another one includes a 52-week mini “trail-making test”) to see how your brain functions develop over time. These are useful for improving memory and keeping your brain fit.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the brain and who wants to improve their memory and learning skills- like I said, this book came to me at a great time, right at the start of a new school year! I do not approve of the positive focus on ketones, nor am I particularly keen on the emphasis on supplementing the diet, but aside from those two aspects this is a very interesting and highly useful book. We need to keep our brains fit, just the same as we keep our bodies fit! The health of our brain is absolutely essential to living a healthy lifestyle.

11 comments

  1. That’s a very well done and comprehensive review, Sagan!

    For what it’s worth, I take supplemental vit. C and E. E seems to decrease muscle and joint soreness, and C, well. I always liked Linus Pauling (Linus from Peanuts also) 🙂


  2. Great review. I do need to exercise my poor little brain.


  3. Thanks for the review, Sagan. I need to work on my memory….
    And I used to take Vit C, but stopped. But maybe I’ll try taking some Vit. E – if Dr. J thinks it decreases muscle and joint soreness, I’m going to try it. I ache all the time…..


  4. Very good review…thorough job!


  5. Dr. J- duly noted! The good thing about those water-soluble vitamins is that you don’t have to worry too much about reaching toxic levels of them.

    Missicat- brain exercises are enjoyable!

    Bag Lady- I get my vitamin E from almonds. Yum! You need to get yourself to a masseuse or a physiotherapist or something:)

    Mark- am glad you liked it!


  6. Such a great review (is your inbox already slammed with more requests?).

    comprehensive.

    I admire how you can distill the complex to simple but not simplistic terms—SO NOT MY GIFT.

    I take vit c too but that’s it.

    people are always pushing the extra B-complex my way…


  7. uuuugh dont eve get me started on the whole ketone thing…

    and OF COURSE supplements arent neccessary. if they were, none of us would be alive because in terms of mankind- they are pretty new.

    great review!

    Kelly Turner
    http://www.groundedfitness.com


  8. Good review. When you mentioned that the author also has its own line of supplements, I cannot help but wonder if he wrote the book in order to promote his supplements.


  9. Excellent review Sagan! I need a little brain boosting these days. And some sleep, while I’m at it.


  10. MizFit- thanks! Reviews are such fun.

    Kelly- knew you’d back me up on this one:)

    Asithi- I considered the same thing, but I was surprised- he mentions his supplement in one sentence somewhere in the middle of the book. There doesn’t seem to be anything about it on the cover or anything. So I was pleased with that.

    Dee- nap time?


  11. I have read some posts and i am going to add this blog to my RSS feed reader



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